While developing or improving your company safety and health program often seems like an uphill climb, there are some things most companies can do to address these challenges head on.  First, the term “Safety Culture” has influenced occupational safety and health significantly in recent years to move a program forward. A good place to start with establishing a culture is to make safety and health core values. Ask your management team: What is important to this company? Developing a mission statement that highlights safety and health as part of the corporate philosophy tells everyone that seeing your workers go home safe and healthy at the end of the day is paramount to a successful company culture. 

A safety and health culture is not “one size fits all” and takes time to grow. Small companies will have challenges and benefits that medium and large companies do not. That is the beauty of a safety and health culture. You can shape it to meet your company specific needs and desired outcomes. Look for more information on safety and health cultures in future stories on SNIPSmag.com.

Take note that the proper term is safety and health. All too often, the “health” side of protecting workers gets lost or postponed when in fact it should be part of the ongoing process. The chronic “hidden illnesses” such as hearing loss, chemical overexposures such as silica or hexavalent chromium, and musculoskeletal disorders that occur over time should be addressed along with the physical hazards associated with falls, cuts and eye injuries.  

Healthy Culture Requires Good Leadership

“What is good for the goose is good for the gander.” This phrase implies management should lead by example. If workers see that supervisors practice safe behaviors and make safety and health part of daily conversations, it becomes normal and invited. For example: establish procedures for everyone to wear hearing protection and eye protection when entering any part of the shop. No exceptions. In doing so, not only are you addressing two of the most common issues in the sheetmetal and HVAC industry, but you are setting a baseline that everyone can follow.

Communication is key. Develop a simple procedure for workers to report any injuries, illnesses, incidents (including near misses/close calls), hazards, or safety and health concerns, without fear of retaliation. Companies often have options for reporting hazards or concerns anonymously such as a safety complaint box whereby employees can drop a quick note to management if needed. Reported near misses, or near hits, should not be ignored but should be investigated the same as actual accidents and incidents. Quite often, the investigation will find that had the circumstances been slightly different, a worker could have been seriously injured. Ask workers for ideas on improvements and follow up on their suggestions. Afterall, they are ones in the shop or on the construction site working around hazards day in and day out.

Be Proactive with Regular Sheet Metal Shop, Worksite Inspections

A proactive approach places high emphasis on regular worksite inspections and correcting hazards. How can you address hazards and prevent injury or illness if you do not know about them before an accident?  Inspect the workplace with a focus on the types of hazards associated with the work being conducted. For example, a checklist to identify problems in a fabrication shop will differ from a checklist for a construction site. For example, machine guarding is critical in the shop while falls from heights needs to be addressed on most construction sites.

Finally, ensure your training program goes beyond awareness to understanding. It is not enough to provide toolbox talks to employees and assume they “get it.” Train workers to understand the process and benefits from identifying and controlling hazards in the workplace, as well as reporting injuries, illnesses and near misses. The OSHA Hazard Communication Standard is one of the most frequently cited standards by OSHA compliance officers. Why? Lack of understanding regarding the science-based nuances of working with chemicals, how to read and understand the complicated safety data sheets (SDS), unfamiliar terminology, and storage and labeling requirements.  

In summary, establishing a proactive safety and health culture that coordinates programmatic aspects of safety and health management is the first step to achieving success in protecting workers and realizing the return-on-investment benefits related to occupational safety and health.